Mexico City (DF, as it’s commonly called) is enormous. At 573 square miles and over 8 million people (more, if you include many of the outer boroughs), it’s one of the densest and largest cities in the world.
We only had five days there—hardly enough time—and we’re already looking forward to a return.
We first chose to visit Mexico City when I discovered there was a direct flight out of Sacramento. It was too tempting! The only downside: it left at 1am. Naively, I assumed we’d be transferring two fast-asleep kids into their car seats and that, if they woke, they’d go right back to sleep at the first chance.
But the minute we got into the car, I turned around and Hudson smiled wide: “Uno, dos, tres! We’re going to Mexico. Right, Skyler?” He was so excited.
It was tricky getting them to calm down and fall back asleep on the plane, but eventually we had success. In all, there were probably two more hours of shut-eye for everyone before we landed in Mexico. By then it was 7am local time—and only 5am body time.
We had rented an apartment in the Condesa neighborhood—which I wrote all about here—and were so grateful when we could be let in to freshen up early. The kids quickly made themselves at home, unpacking the toys I’d brought along.
We left our things and set out for a full morning exploring La Condesa and its neighbor, Roma.
I was struck by the cool, humid climate—we’d arrived at the start of the rainy season, but it tends not to get too hot in Mexico City as it’s over 7,000 feet above sea level.
I was also struck by how European the neighborhood felt. I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me so much: the once Aztec city was completely rebuilt by the Spanish after a siege in the 16th century, and redesigned to fit a Spanish model of urban living.
It felt very apart from the Mexico I’d last visited, on the Yucatan.
We walked the shady avenues, admiring all of the dogs on parade, and made our way through the parks.
Everything we passed on the street looked amazing, but for lunch, we continued to Rosetta, where Elena Reygadas opened a restaurant with bread so beloved that she opened a bakery—Panaderia Rosetta—a few doors down. The much-lauded restaurant was booked up for lunch, so we ordered sandwiches and pastries to go from the bakery. A highlight were the rosemary rolls, which I would liken to savory monkey bread for adults. So decadent and wonderful.
We took them to nearby Plaza Rio de Janiero and ate on the benches there. The photo above makes me laugh, because we’re eating these wonderful gourmet sandwiches but Hudson is having the peanut butter and jelly sandwich we made at home.
There was a playground with lots of kids where Hudson and Skyler played for a bit. Many of the vendors who came by would blow bubbles to get the kids to come over—which is just about the best idea ever. Worked like a charm!
Many of the shops and restaurants recommended to us sat in this stretch of Roma. I especially liked 180° Shop with its bookshelves and bikes alongside jukeboxes and clothing.
There are hundreds of museums and galleries all over the city. We peeked into MUMEDI (the Mexican Museum of Design), but generally opted to skip the museums on this trip—the kids tend to have a lot more fun exploring outside. This is one of the many reasons we’ll need to return.
After a very full morning, we took a taxi back to the apartment and put the kids down for a nap—from which it was nearly impossible to wake them!
We opted for dinner at a seafood restaurant that we could walk to, nearby. MeroToro is the second restaurant from the same people who created Contramar, which was basically the seafood restaurant I’d read about in every magazine featuring Mexico City. (Alas, Contramar is only open for lunch.)
We asked the waiter for recommendations and followed his suggestions, choosing only small plates so that we could taste a lot. Everything was wonderful—especially the ceviche and some octopus over pickled vegetables.
People always ask about eating out with kids, and it’s something I’d love to talk more about soon. In the meantime, I tried to include a few more photos of the distractions we tend to bring along. I love that Aron is using his sparkling water to fill up Skyler’s Water-Wow pen (which she’s probably about to put in her mouth and suck on anyway).
On Sunday, the street beside our apartment was close to car traffic. We watched from our windows and then, after some wonderful eggs and fruit at Cafe Toscana, we walked the streets. I had read that most of the tourist sites are closed on Mondays, so we wanted to be sure to visit one such place today: we set out for the Castillo de Chapultepec.
Once we got inside the park (it was a bit tricky crossing the road by the metro at the Chapultepec park’s busy western edge), we saw that it was packed with families and vendors. I gather it’s always popular on the weekends, but on Sundays the museum is also free!
We stopped to check out masks, and toys that made loud whirling noises; Hudson found more bubbles to chase and tried to figure out how to whistle as loud as the vendors. And we agreed to a very silly family photo with our two little caballeros.
But in general, I thought it was interesting how little attention we were paid. I feel like much of my experience at Mexican markets has been in tourism centers like Puerto Vallarta or Cancun, where I’m even likely to be addressed in English. Here, everything was set up for locals, which made it all the more enjoyable and interesting.
It was a steep walk up to the Castle’s highest point, but the views were wonderful. You could imagine the jungle that once was there and which still seemed ready to take back the city—if ever given the chance.
You can take a little motorized train up the hill, but as there was a long wait we bypassed it and instead rode it down. We found ourselves wishing our kids could appreciate how hard we were working to get us all up that hill! (Sidenote: no strollers are allowed inside the castle gates. And there are lockers at the bottom of the hill for backpacks with food and drink.)
On the way up, we passed lots of families using those little leashes for children. In fact they were so common that I have to remark on it.
I took so many photos of the museum and its beautiful murals. I wish we’d had longer to stay and walk through the entire National History museum.
Hudson is of an age where he loves to go explore and see new things: he always wants to know what is around the corner, up those stairs and down that passage way. It was hard to appreciate the more subtle features of the art housed inside the museum, but the murals and the architecture held an instant appeal.
I’m pretty sure Skyler, on the other hand, thought being put on my back instead of the front was some kind of a cruel joke.
The Chapultepec park is huge—over 1600 acres. You could easily spend a full day inside it, going to the Castillo, the art museum, the zoo, or riding paddle boats on the lake.
We left by way of the lake (near the anthropology museum), and stopped at the park’s bookstore. It was amazing! We especially loved the children’s section that offered a slide as a point of entry.
We also couldn’t pass up a chance to each pose with Jorge Marín’s bronzed wings just beyond.
Skyler fell asleep in her stroller as we walked, so we chose to stay out all day rather than return home for a nap.
We had a little bit of trouble figuring out how to get our phones to work sometimes—which we would use for Uber to get around. On this occasion, however, we just kept walking and crossed into the wealthy Polanco neighborhood.
A lot of the best shopping is rumored to be in Polanco, but sadly most of the shops are closed on Sundays. Still, my impression of a main street, Avenida Masaryk, was that it’s a lot like Rodeo Drive. Very upscale and a lot of brands you can find elsewhere.
One of the best restaurants in the city (and the world) is Pujol, located in Polanco. The chef-patron, Enrique Olvera, operates a cafe with a lovely communal table just down the block, called eno. We stopped in for fresh juices, wine, and sandwiches.
We’d been promising Hudson a ride in the double decker tourist buses that stop frequently around town, but we couldn’t seem to find where they connected. So when we finally go the Uber working, we instead headed off to the central district and temperated any disappointment with some chocolate, sugar, and cinnamon.
El Moro is an classic Churreria that’s been around since 1934. The restaurant is large, with at least 50 tables, and had a timelessness to it. You can get the churros to go, but you’d miss out on the very friendly sit-down service—and possibly the dipping chocolate!
From there we decided to walk to the Zócalo and get our first glimpse of the beautiful Plaza de la Constitución. There were a number of pedestrian-only spaces and roads which we really appreciated—it meant Hudson could get out of his stroller and run—which was helpful as we were pushing quickly to get over to the plaza in hopes of seeing the soldiers arrive to take down its giant Mexican flag.
Typically, members of the military arrive to install and remove the flag, ceremoniously, each morning and night. Unfortunately, there was a Tournament in the square that day and no flag ceremony would be performed.
Instead we explored the incredible Cathedral on the square. Built over two centuries, atop a former Aztec sacred site, the cathedral is the largest in the Americas. Hudson registered this with exclamations of “wow, isn’t it amazing, Mommy?” And it was. We read that you can take a tour of the bell towers, which I’d love to do. One should also consider, of course, joining a tour of the cathedral with a visit to Templo Mayor—an Aztec temple that once stood at the site of the cathedral but which was covered over and has since been excavated (on any day but a Monday).
However, we figured that since Hudson didn’t get to see the soldiers and the flag—and since we’d been wanting an overview of the city—it was the perfect time for a bus ride: those tourist buses leave directly from beside the church, so even though it was late in the day we decided to go for a ride.
These sorts of tourist buses really can be a great way to see a lot of the city quickly. We didn’t use the hop-on, hop-off feature as it was so late—but you could easily have based a day completely on where the bus takes you. They had ear buds for listening to English naration—which both kids found thrilling to use, even though I am sure they got almost nothing out of what was actually said.
We actually were having so much fun that we stayed on the bus one stop past our neighborhood (which amounted to a much longer walk home than we’d anticipated) and then stopped for a quick dinner near the apartment, in Condesa.
We had arranged a tour of the Mercado la Merced with the group EatMexico and met our guide outside the Bellas Artes the next morning. Arturo took us on the metro and gave us some quick tips about navigating the tiny market aisles before we embarked on an epic six-hour tour of the massive market. I wrote extensively about it here—and highly recommend it. Definitely a highight of the trip.
When we parted ways in the afternoon, we found ourselves near the Zócalo again. They were still clearing the square from the weekend’s event (no flag), so we called a cab to go to La Ciudadela—a small market which had been recommended to us for artisanal goods.
Having been to many markets like this before in Mexico, I thought this one stood out as a cut above. Clearly it was marketed to tourists, but there were some genuine hand—crafted items mixed in with the more standard (likely mass produced) fare. It was impossible to pass up all of the wonderful toy options. We left with felted dolls, a spinning top, and wooden cars.
As I mentioned, there are so many museums that I would have liked to visit in this city—the National Museum of Art and the Frida Kahlo house, for example—it felt almost criminal to think how little of them we’d seen by this point in the trip. So on Tuesday morning, we headed to Museo de Antropología. It’s an easy sell for the kids—who were naturally drawn to the amazing courtyard with it enormous fountain—and for all the carved stones made into serpents or faces. For my part, just the architecture of the place itself was incredible, but it was also spectacular to see the giant Aztec stone of the sun and the recreated model city Tenochtitlán, the Aztec city upon which DF was rebuilt.
We were lucky that after the museum we came out in time to watch the Voladores de Papantla. They start with a dance around the pole then climb the pole to attach themselves to ropes which are wrapped around the top of the pole. While a 5th member sits atop the pole and plays the flute and drum, the others adopt graceful poses and jump—allowing the rope to unwind as they swing around the pole. It is pretty amazing to watch!
Mercado Roma had come highly recommended to us, and so we made it our lunch destination that day. A sort of blending of beer garden, food hall, and market, the space is anchored by food stands—many helmed by chefs or restauranteurs with locations around the city—serving local or seasonal products.
We had asked our guide about the market during our tour the previous day and were interested that he sort of shrugged it off as inauthentic. And it’s true: one cannot go to Mercado Roma to learn about Mexico City’s municipal markets. But I would still recommend it.
We really enjoyed trying so many of the city’s best dishes in such a short span of time. Aron took Hudson to pick out some tacos, tamales, and pizza; we shared delicious cocktails (like one with ancho chili liqueur); and had an encore experience of El Moro’s churros. As long as there aren’t waits, this is my favorite kind of sit-down lunch with kids.
There was also a really beautiful bakery next door that made French-style éclairs with Mexican fillings, but we were so full! (I regret it now.)
We headed downtown next, to see more of this kind of new design, at Downtown—a hotel and collection of shops near the Zócalo.
Stepping into the courtyard of the beautiful 17th-century building, you’re greeted with a beautiful sight: The trees from the first level reach all the way up to the second level, lanterns are hung throughout. There’s a large, ornate staircase at one side, and tables arranged in the middle. And, in a second courtyard, a wall of green has been made to look like a field of grass.
We took our time looking around. My favorite clothing store of the trip was here, Carla Fernandez.
Next we walked to Sanborns in the Casa de los Azulejos—a soda fountain/store chain in Mexico that has its most magnificent location in this 18th-century palace. It struck me that we were seeing these two location in reverse order as the courtyard here was so clearly a precursor for the design we found in Downtown.
And then, at last, we got to see the flag and the soldiers! We noticed the time and rushed back toward the square. It was just beginning to rain, so the ceremony had already begun. But it was enough to satisfy Hudson who had been asking about them nearly every day. A small band was playing and we stayed a little while to listen before taking cover under the arches around the square.
After the rain subsided, we walked back past the Palacio de Bellas Artes through the lovely Alameda park and used Uber to go back to Roma for our last dinner.
Romita Comedor was a very cool spot—set in a gorgeous turn-the-century townhouse—so it was fortunate for us that we went early enough that let us have a table without a reservation. (We always find it is better to eat early at a nice restaurant with the kids, anyway.) The space inside was just stunning, an entire wall and part of a ceiling was open glass.
This definitely ended up being one of our favorite meals—and the ambience contributed to that greatly.
That night, we packed up our bags, took stock of the wonderful souvenirs we’d collected (in all senses of the word), and remarked on how quickly the days had passed.
I’m not quite sure what we had expected Mexico City to be like. But it exceeded any expectations I had. Honestly, it hadn’t been on my radar as a place we’d be traveling until very recently. Now I can’t stop thinking about how much I’d like to go back.